This story is by B. R. Kar and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Is it the way I look?” I asked.
“For the umpteenth time, Eric, it’s nothing, they’re just picking on you,” begged Tanya.
I could see that my sister was starting to get annoyed but I refused to give up. “It’s got to be something, why else would they keep calling me that?” I said. I had to figure this out; I was not going to be spend another day at school being “accidentally” pushed on Brad in front of everyone because I knew Monty’s gang too well to believe that. Also, Brad faced enough already, I actually felt bad for him.
Then I said, “Maybe I should just ask Brad.” I intended it to be a question, looking at Tanya hopingly.
She got the hint. “You can’t just walk up to someone and interrogate them about their sexuality! That’s just creepy,” Tanya exclaimed in disbelief, “I mean, have you ever even spoken to the guy?”
“No…” I said, “But I could make small talk.” I knew I was being stupid. “Ok fine, I won’t do it but this way I could at least know for sure. He’d be able to tell, right? Is it some sort of vibe I put out? Or the way I dress? What is it, really?”
Tanya had already given up. “Look, I think you’re fine,” she said picking up her bag and making to leave. “Just throw out those leafy, printed, floral shirts you wear if it bothers you so much.
“What? So it is my clothing then? You said I was fine!” I called out behind her but Tanya had already left.
I sat fuming in the middle of my bed. What the hell! I got up and walked up to the mirror. I took a few steps back to get a larger view of myself. Really? My shirt? I’d seen so many guys wear stuff like this and I was sure they weren’t being called names. Celebrities wear them too, for God’s sakes, I thought. And they’re light and casual and comfortable… I could come up with a whole bunch of reasons. In fact, I’d never noticed Brad wearing stuff like this, he always wore grays and dark blues and black and yet he had come out last year. How did Monty and his stupid jocks not catch the irony here?
Or was it actually my personality?
My mind went blank for a second. Were people picking up certain hints from my behaviour that I myself wasn’t aware of? A whole flashback of the past few days began to play across my memory. All that irritation suddenly vanished, leaving a huge question mark. It was not just Monty and his guys, I began to remember instances where other people too had started to sort of keep away from me. Not that I was a very social person anyway but now that I thought of it, it made sense why Tony and Ben had messaged me saying they couldn’t come over for the project work. This hadn’t happened before, we always worked on our prototype in my garage.
I started to doubt myself now. Was I actually going through some sort of change? But there was Michelle. How could I ignore Michelle? I was sure of the way I felt about her. The past two years were a testimony to that and I still hoped to get my chance some day. I never understood what she saw in that Chris guy but I was ten times smarter than him for sure. I recalled the awkward moments when she would ask me for help with her homework and I’d be caught off guard and make a fool out of myself. Yes, these were existing proofs, embarrassing as they may be, I still planned on mustering the courage to ask her out some day. Well, then that definitely ruled out the possibility of what Monty accused me of being.
It must be the clothes then.
I rushed to my wardrobe and pulled out a shirt that was neatly folded in one corner of the bottom shelf. I held it out next to me and looked into the mirror. This was the one that Tanya had got me some time back in an effort to modernize my look. Of course her attempt had failed. I had worn it only for a day to please her and then had gone back to my usual self. Now I used it as a reference point and looked back and forth from it to the one I was wearing right now. The longer I stared into the mirror, the sillier I felt. Like Tanya suggested, I should just throw out the one I was wearing and all such other shirts I owned: anything to stop Monty and everyone else from assuming things about me.
I turned around Tanya’s shirt in my hands. Sure, I could wear this, just darker colours and a more solid build. I had seen Monty wear stuff like this.
“Now you won’t stand out, happy?” Tanya had joked when she had handed it to me last month.
Well, she was right. I’d definitely blend in with this. I put it on and looked into the mirror. Suddenly I was taken back to the basketball practice day a couple of months back. I was dribbling frantically towards the basket when out of nowhere Monty had rammed into me and had tackled the ball away. I was thrown down with the force and as I yelled “that’s a foul!” Monty had laughed and shouted out: “Stick to your zone Erica! Go back to your cheerleading squad!”
Those words now reverberated in my mind. I threw a glance at my shirt lying on the bed, floral designs running across it and then I looked at myself in this other shirt.
After what felt like an eternity, I began to smile. This really was an easy choice. “Well, Monty,” I said out loud, “You couldn’t be more right!”
Moments later I was headed towards Tanya’s room, shirt folded neatly back along the creases. She’d understand, I was sure.
“Tanya, you can return this,” I called, knocking and entering. All the lights were on but she wasn’t there. I placed the shirt along with the tags at her desk and walked over to switch off her bedside lamps. As I bent down, a faint smell of something chemical drew my attention. On the table at the corner of the room, amongst scattered books was an open bottle of blue nail polish.
Careful not to spill anything, I picked up the cap and examined the nailpolish brush, its hair-like fibers stuck together with the glossy substance. The odor was quite strong now, I withdrew my face. For a second I hesitated and then a thought struck me. I stretched out my left thumb and painted a stroke across it. The nail felt unusually cool under the sparkly material. I took my hand further away and watched as the liquid settled on my finger and turned to a darker shade.
“Eric?” came Tanya’s voice suddenly from downstairs, “Hurry up, we’re all waiting for you. Mom won’t serve until you come.”
I quickly put the cap back onto the bottle and made my way out. As I shut the door behind me, I looked at the colour on my thumb once again and then wiped it off on my jeans.
- “Not yet,” I thought, climbing down the stairs, “But definitely someday.”